By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” March 3, 2023)
The ULP faces a governance challenge, but it does not care. Having won five consecutive elections and in the hunt for a sixth, history will record its leader as an “election genius”. The governing party has mastered the art of electioneering and power retention, and that’s all that matters to Gonsalves and his clansmen. Democratic best practices are not its forte. The governing party could care less about optics.
Prison officer Kenson King has been repeatedly arrested and detained in the smelly holding area at police headquarters in Kingstown. I met him in court yesterday. He appeared to answer charges of sedition. He was recently found not guilty of brutalising a prisoner. He is detained, charged and then the charges are dropped. Each time he is arrested and charged, the Public Service Commission dutifully places him on half pay, thus affecting his ability to meet his financial commitment. His family life is constantly disrupted. He has just completed a civil court matter seeking damages for wrongful arrest, illegal detention and malicious prosecution. He was arrested and charged for allegedly threatening the life of PM Gonsalves in a Facebook post. The officers who mindlessly arrested Kenson King were put through the wringer by attorney Shirlan Barnwell and the presiding judge. But they don’t care.
Kenson King is only being harassed and needlessly prosecuted. He is being PERSECUTED. This kind of state terrorism must be condemned. These actions must not be allowed in a country governed by laws.
Gonsalves and his police forces are out to get the Kings. During last week’s sitting of the House of Assembly, Luzette King, Adriana King, “Patches” Knight/King and John Mofford were detained for holding a protest action outside the gate of the assembly. Police claimed the law prohibits protests within 200 yards of the parliament.
All democracies have laws that outline time, place and manner restrictions on demonstrations. These have to do with order, securing peace and security. Here in SVG, post-independence governments have never restricted protest demonstrations until the ULP got into power. This government, in a slow march intent on limiting our right to freely express our grievances, has banned or restricted marches, demonstrations and pickets, snatched protestors’ placards, and prohibited the use of African drums, while heavily armed police maintain a hostile, menacing presence.
In arresting the Kings, the police violate the law they swear to protect and uphold. Apart from the fact that the protest presented no threat to the peace and safety of citizens, the police had no reasonable grounds to detain the protestors. Case law says a mere order from a superior to an arrest could not constitute a reasonable ground for such suspicion.
Lest we forget, in 2021 police made early morning raids on the homes of 10 opposition activists and arrested them. Their personal property, including cell phones and computers, was seized. No charges followed the raids. This was a plain and simple attempt at harassment.
This is slow torture, just short of a slippery slope. Citizens beware.
The rough house tactics by our security forces may have a desensitising effect in much the same way that some of us no longer bother with news of gun violence and homicide. We turn a blind eye, to our chagrin. Our democratic spirit is being drained away. If we do not check ourselves soon and correct course, generations coming will be unforgiving. Much like the galloping debt burden, the task of building a polity that is fair, equitable and just may prove insurmountable.
Consider the following:
The frequency with which we hear of coroners’ inquests is good news. But the optics aren’t good. Among the persons cleared in the most recent inquest was Renwick Cato. But consider this: while the inquest was going on into the shooting death of a Georgetown man, Cato continued his job as the chief prosecutor in the Serious Offences Court. His colleagues in the DPP’s office presented the “facts” at the inquest. Bad optics. Cato, innocent until found guilty, ought to have been placed on administrative leave with full pay until the inquest concluded. Special prosecutors should handle these matters. Justice must not only be done. It must appear to have been done.
Disregard for image and reputation is a growing and worrying feature of this administration. The handling of the trespass/shooting charges against Senator Morgan and Assistant DPP Nelson, the Yugge Farrell/Camillo Gonsalves saga, particularly PM Gonsalves’ demand for his son to take a dignified silence, while Farrell was stigmatised and dragged from court to mental asylum was not only troubling but crippling to some onlookers. Most infamous of these assaults on our senses was the swift dismissal of the sexual charges laid against PM Gonsalves by a female member of his security detail. Compounding that lousy situation was the insensitivity of the police high command, clearly in collusion with the executive, to place the officer on the beat so that she could be sneered at and snickered.
There is also the government’s approach to charges of improper or irregular performances by senior officials in public administration: the purchase and sale of items to his Agriculture Ministry by former Permanent Secretary Allan Alexander; Tourism Authority Director Glen Beache’s advertising, consulting agreement with a company with which he had an interest; the Kentucky Fried Chicken affair that ensnared former Health Ministry PS Lanceford Weekes as well as the misfeasance of PS Biddy at Agriculture.
Add to this public relations rap sheet the refusal of the government to honour court orders for cost, damages and declarations. These actions represent clear and undeniable contempt of the judiciary. Add to all this the government’s unconscionable punishment of public employees who refused to take the ineffective and unsafe COVID-19 vaccines.
Gonsalves and his clansmen are subjecting us to his “perfect” middle finger. And that’s painful.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former senator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].